It took a while for them to get going, but the Los Angeles Kings were the better team and they won the game. It was an exciting ending in that it required overtime. The problem is when I look at a playoff series between the New York Rangers and the LA Kings, I cannot convince myself this is a great series. There were better series played in the earlier rounds of the playoffs. This is an inevitable problem in the no elite team NHL. If last night's game was a regular season game in January it would be a pretty good one, but when it has the expectations that come with being the first game of the Stanley Cup finals it falls short. The Stanley Cup finals should be something special. This year it's merely a match-up of number six seeds.
St John's IceCaps defeat Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 4 games to two. St John's is the Winnipeg Jets farm affiliate and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton belongs to Pittsburgh. St John's has been led by playoff scoring leader Andrew Gordon and Eric O'Dell offensively. Will O'Neill and Zach Raymond have made significant contributions from defence. Michael Hutchinson is posting a magnificant .946 saves percentage so far in the playoffs for the IceCaps. The Penguins have been led by Chuck Kobasew and Conor Sheary, with Brian Dumoulin leading their defence and Peter Mannino in goal.
Texas Stars defeat Toronto Marlies 4 games to 3. Texas is the Dallas Stars minor league affiliate and the Marlies belong to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Texas was led by Mike Hedden and Travis Morin offensively, Derek Meech has been a strong competitor from defence and Cristopher Nilstorp has been their goaltender. Toronto's offence has come from Peter Holland and Jerry D'Amigo, TJ Brennan has been a strong performer on defence and Drew MacIntyre posted a strong .941 saves percentage.
The finals will see St John's facing Texas. They begin on Sunday.
I am ready to post my prediction for the Stanley Cup finals. You can look back at my earlier predictions for the first, second and third rounds. In the semi-finals, i was correct in the East Conference but I picked Chicago in the West Conference. The 1-1 record in this round brings my overall record to 10-4. Each of the four series picked incorrectly went to seven games. Here is my final prediction:
Los Angeles Kings defeat New York Rangers. Unfortunately neither the Kings nor the Rangers are elite teams. The NHL hasn't had one of those since the 2007 Anaheim Ducks. This is a direct consequence of the salary cap. The liberalized free agency and increased player movement that came along with it has done what it was intended to do. Big market teams have accumulated more talent at expense of the smaller markets. We have Los Angeles playing New York in the finals. These are the two biggest cities in the NHL. If the NHL stays on this path we can look forward to a lot more finals just like this one. Big market teams that have no claim to being elite playing in the finals. This year the Rangers are a mid-level team that got through against mid-level opposition in the weaker East Conference. The Kings are about as good as we seem to get in the current CBA (though hardly dominant) and are much better tested by having to beat better teams to get here. Los Angeles is the better team and thus they should win. The hope for the Rangers is that the Kings are beaten up by their tougher path to the finals, but I don't see much evidence of that right now.
The Los Angeles Kings are bound for the Stanley Cup finals. Like their opponents the New York Rangers they are not an elite team. Los Angeles might be as good a team as can exist in today's NHL but their dominances pales in comparison to almost all of the Stanley Cup winners prior to the 2004/05 lockout season. This might be as good as it gets. Los Angeles won the Stanley Cup in 2012. They did so despite only qualifying for the last playoff seed in the West Conference. This year they managed to take the sixth seed in the West Conference. These are not dominant regular seasons. This is not what one would expect of an elite team. There is no team that is good enough to transcend hockey and draw in casual viewers to see them.
How does Los Angeles stack up to my necessary but not sufficient condition that an elite team has a group of elite players including a top goaltender? Their goaltender in Jonathan Quick might be in the top goaltender group in the NHL. In 2012 he certainly looked like he was when he posted a .929 saves percentage and a 1.95 GAA. He was a Vezina Trophy contender and won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Since then he has not been able to match those numbers. He posted a .902 saves percentage the year after his success and partially rebounded to a .915 saves percentage this year. He is only posting a .906 saves percentage so far in the playoffs. The argument that Jonathan Quick is a top NHL goalie was a very good one two years ago, but nothing he has done since is helping the argument. Fr the sake of my argument today, I will accept him as a top NHL goalie, though I am beginning to wonder if this is a stretch. At any rate, his Hall of Fame chances are not strong. At age 28, he has one season that makes a strong case and there is little to show that he can match it.
The news from Thursday is the New York Rangers will be in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. I think it isn't too controversial to say that they are not an elite team. The fact that they finished in 12th place in the regular season should be sufficient proof for anyone. The salary cap has brought us an era where there are no elite teams so we consistently see Stanley Cup finals without them. It is a significant loss to hockey fans.
The CBA has worked. The NHL has the situation they want. The most important thing the last two CBAs brought in is increased player movement. Liberalizing free agency by reducing the age of unrestricted free agents has led to more player movement. The best players who become free will be able to wind up in the market of their choice. Sure there is a salary cap to prevent one team from buying all of these players, but that is a smokescreen. You only need to buy some of those players to make a team. The bigger markets tend to get these players and the smaller markets tend to lose them. The NHL has a dream Stanley Cup final. The biggest city in the country will play against either the second or third biggest city in the country. They couldn`t ask for better.
The fans lose out. We have one Stanley Cup finalist who is clearly not an elite team in the New York Rangers. Historically nobody will look back on the 2014 Rangers as one of the great NHL teams of all time.
Last week the Vancouver Canucks announced their hiring of Jim Benning as their new GM. He replaces Mike Gillis who was showing that he wasn't up to the task of running the Canucks when the going got tough.
Jim Benning has worked his way up through the ranks of several teams to reach that position. His NHL career was spent with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks. After he retired he served as an amateur scout for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 1993/94. The following season he joined the Buffalo Sabres scouting staff and by 1998 was named their director of amateur scouting. He held that position until the 2004 lockout. In 2006, he was hired by the Boston Bruins to be their assistant general manager. In 2011 he won the Stanley Cup in that position. While it is always hard for outsiders (and even insiders) to know exactly how much credit to give to individual members of the front office of a club, Jim Benning was an important part of the front office of a team that was built into the league's best.
Jim Benning has a good resume. He looks like he could be a solid GM. He is a good general manager prospect. He has a chance to work out as an NHL GM. Time will tell if he lives up to his potential and becomes as good as he might be. In the meantime, the Vancouver Canucks fan expectations have been reset.
The Memorial Cup completed in London, Ontario over the weekend. I wrote earlier about preliminary round. Today I want to write about the playoffs.
SemiFinal: Edmonton Oil Kings 4 Val d'Or Foreurs 3 (3 OT). It is a credit to the Memorial Cup that they do not go to a shootout to decide games like these. Tristan Jarry (Pittsburgh prospect) played in the Edmonton goal and Antoine Bibeau (Toronto prospect) was in the Val d'Or goal. Phil Pietroniro (undrafted) scored early for Val d'Or. Edmonton took over with three straight goals from Mads Eller (2014 draft eligible), Mitchell Moroz (Edmonton prospect) and Edgars Kulda (undrafted). Val d'Or fought back with a Randy Gazzola (undrafted) goal and tied it up in the last minute of regulation time with a Guillaume Gelinas (undrafted) goal. Things were not decided until the third overtime when Curtis Lazar (Ottawa prospect) scored. Val d'Or had beaten Edmonton in two overtimes in the preliminary round. The fact that Edmonton won this time shows these two teams are pretty evenly matched.
The World Hockey Championships completed today in Minsk, Belarus. I have already reported upon the preliminary round. This is a report on the games since that point. We start in the quarterfinals, which were single elimination.
Czech Republic 4 USA 3. Alexander Salak was the Czech goalie. Tim Thomas played for USA. Brock Nelson opened the scoring for USA in the first period. Tomas Rolinek soon tied up the game. The Czechs too control in the second period with three goals. Jiri Novotny provided two assists. The Americans tried to even things up in the third period. Tyler Johnson added two empty net goals in the last couple minutes, but it wasn't enough. Peter Mueller had three assists in the game. Seth Jones had two assists. The Czechs move on to the medal round.
The second round of the AHL playoffs was completed yesterday. I will summarize them today. First here is my first round summary:
St John's IceCaps defeat Norfolk Admirals four games to two. St John's is Winnipeg's AHL affiliate and Norfolk belongs to Anaheim. Eric O'Dell and Andrew Gordon led the St John's offence, Zach Redmond was their top defenceman and Michael Hutchinson has been their goaltender. Norfolk was led by Andre Petersson and Max Friberg. Brad Thieseen and John Gibson shared their goaltending as Gibson spent some time in the NHL during the series.
The Memorial Cup is underway. This is the championship tournament for the Canadian Hockey Leagues. The champions in the Western Hockey League (Edmonton Oil Kings), Ontario Hockey League (Guelph Storm) and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (Val d'Or Foreurs) play in the tournament along with the host London Knights.
I have never liked the Memorial Cup format where a host team automatically qualifies regardless of their success. Either you get an unqualified team that struggles in the Memorial Cup and finishes last (or near last) or worse you get a team that wins the tournament that only qualified for it based on their willingness to host a tournament.
The tournament begins with a round robin played between the four teams and here are the results:
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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